Research

Summarizing my research interests requires a brief summary of generative metaphor. Drawing on the work of Donald Schön, I define generative metaphors as those that “generate new perceptions, explanations, and inventions” (1979). The project of generating new ways of seeing things, such as scholarly research and communication, undergirds all of my research projects.

My published studies of theory use and knowledge claims in HCI and design research in part aim to expose new ways of understanding the role/function of theory in scholarly communication and the unique ways researchers in different fields make knowledge claims, respectively.

Similarly, my work on citation function aims to unpack the tacit meanings associated with citations and their role in scholarly communication. This is part of a broader project in which I am trying to devise ways to make private aspects of citing more visible and public. This involves understanding how researchers use reference management tools (like Zotero and Mendeley), what those tools imply with regard to citations, and how those tools might be iterated on to draw attention to the personal significance and rationale for citation practices. A related but nascent part of this project involves thinking about the evolving role of citations with regard to emergent forms of scholarly communication (e.g. artifacts as scholarship, pictorials, videos, and so forth).

My academic background informs a predominantly humanistic approach to HCI and design research, which means that, in addition to social scientific methodologies and methods, I make use of interpretive theory and scholarly essays as means of doing research. My approach stems from a twofold interest in (1) demonstrating the novel perspectives and insights that come from applying humanistic lenses in HCI research and (2) revealing generative insights about familiar concepts in the field.

For example, I have argued that the theory-practice gap, a well-known concept in HCI scholarship, can be understood as a generative metaphor and that, thus, the relationship between theory and practice can be interpreted and described using different metaphors leading to different research and design directions. For example, instead of describing theory and practice in terms of a gap, it is possible to describe it in terms of a continuum. Describing the relationship this way means it is no longer necessary to try and bridge the gap but instead to ask when exactly something becomes theory or practice.

Think of time or the seasons. Both are continua. No part is noticeably different from its adjacent parts (thanks for the definition, Wiktionary!) although the extremes are very different from each other. The early morning is very different from mid-afternoon, for example, but one minute doesn’t differ much from the next. It doesn’t make sense to think about building bridges between parts of continua. They are continuous series. It might make sense, however, to think about just what distinguishes the extremes or to trace the path between them. That’s the thing about continua. They’re already connected. Building bridges doesn’t even make sense!

Reckoning with this possibility is not an easy thing to do, but it strikes me as important and practical. It is important because the way we frame the theory-practice relationship has implications for our disciplinary identity. It is practical because it has implications for resource allocation. Are time, money, energy, and so forth better spent working on other projects and asking other questions?

Making space for reflection is crucial now more than ever. Competition for funding is increasing. The expectation to publish more and at higher caliber venues grows year over year. Then there are teaching and service responsibilities. There is only so much time in the day. When is there time to reflect? What happens if we don’t?

If we don’t spend time reflecting on our practices, then we can in some cases contribute to unequal power relations between different social groups. The purpose of critical discourse analysis, one of my research methods, is to understand where and how discursive practices (like writing and speaking) reproduce these inequalities. These are difficult arguments to make, but their implications are significant. It becomes possible to see, for example, how researchers and participants can challenge social inequalities and thus resist dominance by changing their discursive practices.

A core message that I want to communicate to you here is that my research interests cut across many different topics of study. Critical theory informs research on assistive technology, educational technology, and aging, among others. And I have yet to encounter a research project where the lens of problem framing does not add some value. I am confident that my research interests would be engaging and informative to the broader community of scholars and grad students at your university, and I’d love to talk to you more about how we can connect.

References

Schön, D. (1979). Generative Metaphor: A Perspective on Problem-Setting in Social Policy. In Metaphor and Thought (Second Edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 137—163